EMMER WHEAT: STAPLE IN THE EGYPTIAN DIET
Miriam mentions emmer wheat several times in her novels. No wonder. The domesticated variety was a staple in the Egyptian diet, a primary ingredient in Egyptian bread and a beer called henket.
The wild variety is native to the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, growing in the grass and woodlands of hill country from modern-day Israel to Iran. Hunters and gatherers ate it for thousands of years before its domestication.
In THE DEADLIEST LIE, when Miriam climbs to the highest point in Alexandria, she looks south toward Lake Mareotis:
As I raised my hands to shade my brow, my eyes were drawn to the bustle about the lake: brown-skinned women shouldering baskets of laundry to and fro along the sandy paths; others either bowed over their garments, kneading them while the water lapped at their feet and the wind snatched their chatter, or crouching to spread them out on the rocks to bleach and dry. Barefoot children frolicked along its marshy fringes. Ibises perched on their stilt-like legs probing the mud with their long, down-curving bills.
And then Miriam looks beyond to the fertile countryside beyond the lake: “Meandering lanes dotted with outbuildings too numerous to count cut the landscape into orchards of silver-barked olive trees; arbors of twisted grapevines; and golden fields of barley, castor beans, and (domesticated) emmer wheat.”
One of the first crops domesticated in the Near East, emmer was widely cultivated, but now it is found only in isolated mountainous regions of Europe and Asia. THE DEADLIEST LIE, however, is found wherever books are sold. You can locate a copy here.